2023 Race of Champions: Solbergs go back-to-back for Norway

There is little surprise in a Nordic team succeeding at the Race of Champions upon its relocation to Sweden in 2022. Indeed, the delegation from neighbouring Norway was on top for the second straight year as Petter Solberg and his son Oliver Solberg secured the Nations Cup yet again.

The Solbergs defeated Team All Stars’ Felipe Drugovich and Thierry Neuville in the final with three wins to one. Neuville won the first race against Petter before Oliver avenged his father, and the two swept their runs against Drugovich.

Norway’s run to the final took began with a sweep of France, who were hampered by reigning individual champion Sébastien Loeb‘s late arrival. They then took on Sweden‘s Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekström; although the latter edged out Petter by just .001 of a second, the teams finished with a tie that was broken by best overall time, aided by Oliver beating Kristoffersson by over five seconds.

“Everyone loves the Race of Champions but I was nervous today. The conditions change every run, so it was easy to make a mistake,” said Petter. “You get butterflies in your stomach and you still have to go out and do what you do. Sébastien Loeb didn’t have a fair chance because of his late arrival, but to beat him was quite enjoyable. Then the feeling got better and better.

“As for Oliver, I knew he’s fast but coming up against the Swedish drivers you really need a perfect run. That’s what he did, and the same in the final. Oliver had a fantastic day’s racing, not just for winning but his speed. He saved me today, just as he did last year.”

Their victory makes Norway the second different country to win back-to-back Nations Cups, with the most recent coming in 2017/2018 with Germany; Germany was also the last team with consecutive wins with the same driver lineup since Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel six-peated from 2007 to 2012. If the 2020 ROC is excluded as it was held virtually due to COVID-19 (which also cancelled the 2021 edition), a Scandinavian team has won the last three Nations Cups as Team Nordic took 2019.

Although the All Stars’ off-road experience and name recognition pales in comparison to Team USA‘s Tanner Foust and Travis Pastrana, especially as Pastrana defeated the open-wheel rising star Drugovich, Neuville won both his races against the Americans while Drugovich held off Foust to move on. The All Stars beat Germany‘s Vettel and Mick Schumacher 3–1, with Schumacher scoring the lone win for his team, to advance to the final. Germany had won against Great Britain’s Jamie Chadwick and David Coulthard by the same score.

Germany had reached the semi-final after sweeping Team eROC‘s Lucas Blakeley and Jarno Opmeer for the second year in a row. Blakeley, who pulled off an upset over Vettel in 2022, could not repeat his magic in 2023 after drifting into a snow bank but still had his moment when he beat both Finland’s Valtteri Bottas and Mika Häkkinen.

Despite his early exit alongside Adrien Tambay, Loeb will hope for a repeat of 2022. He quipped, “I have the same start as last year with second in the Dakar Rally and immediately out in the Nations Cup so hopefully the rest will be as good as last year.”